The U.S. Capitol police have started scrutinizing the backgrounds of individuals who meet with lawmakers.
After the Jan. 6 insurrection, the police department's intelligence unit began examining people and their social media feeds who meet with lawmakers, who hadn't been aware of the practice, and even some of the intelligence analysts have raised concerns with the department's inspector general, reported Politico.
“Whatever they think that sounds like for security, it sounds dangerously close — if not already over the line — to spying on members of Congress, their staff, their constituents and their supporters,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), a former criminal defense attorney. “Anybody involved with implementing this without making it known to the actual members of Congress should resign or be fired immediately, and I’m not big on calling for resignations.”
Three sources told Politico that congressional staffers are also subject to the new scrutiny, which was implemented by former Department of Homeland Security official Julie Farnam as part of a series of changes implemented in the intelligence unit starting in fall 2020.
“These reports are incredibly disturbing,” said McKinley Lewis, a spokesperson for Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL). “It is unthinkable that any government entity would conduct secret investigations to build political dossiers on private Americans. The American people deserve to know what Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi knew and directed, and when. Senator Scott believes the Senate Rules Committee should immediately investigate.”
A spokesperson for House Administration Committee, which oversees chamber security matters, declined to comment, but Capitol police defended the practice of seeking public information about donors, staffers and other associates who meet with lawmakers.
“It is our duty to protect Members of Congress wherever they are,” police said in a statement. “Just like journalists, we do research with public information.”
Patrick Toomey, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said the practice raises civil rights concerns.
“When police set out to monitor people’s social media activity without any reason to believe they have engaged in criminal activity, it raises First Amendment concerns,” Toomey said. “Those concerns are especially strong here, where individuals are coming under scrutiny simply because they are exercising their right to petition members of Congress.”